Potevo and potuto

Donsez

Senior Member
Swedish, Finland
Hi! What's the difference between these two? Everytime I've had to translate something into something I've always used "I could", but I'm not sure anymore. Could you please make it clear to me and provide me with some examples?

Grazie!!
 
  • Paulfromitaly

    MODerator
    Italian
    Potevo = I could.
    Potuto = past participle of the verb potere.

    Io potevo guidare l'automobile.
    I could drive the car.

    Non ho potuto dormire la scorsa notte.
    Last night I could not sleep.
     

    shamblesuk

    Senior Member
    England, English
    I could drive the car would use the conditional of potere - Potrei guidare l'automobile .Could in the past tense is potevo as Paul said but that sentence doesn't work in the past tense.

    Try I could hear the bells - Potevo sentire le campane.

    Che ne dite?

    Lee
     

    VIVIVI

    New Member
    italy
    Yes I think u can translate both with "I could". The difference more than the tense I think that is a question of ability against will. However we prefer potuto(past participle) for negative forms(or almost negative such as "ho potuto SOLTANTO/... SOLO...", here are some examples:


    e.g.: 1a)potevo fare di meglio > I could do it better (I was able but I didn't: I didn't give all my efforts for that or I did't want to)
    1b)non ho potuto fare di meglio> I couldn't do it better ( I've tried but I wasn't able)
    2a) potevo leggere anche tutto il libro> I could even read the whole book in once (I was able but I did't)
    2)ho potuto leggere solo tre pagine perche' nn ho avuto molto tempo. > I could read just 3 pages because I didn't have much time(=I wasn't able to read more than 3 pag.)


    HOPE THAT COULD BE USEFUL...
     

    Paulfromitaly

    MODerator
    Italian
    I could drive the car would use the conditional of potere - Potrei guidare l'automobile .Could in the past tense is potevo as Paul said but that sentence doesn't work in the past tense.

    Try I could hear the bells - Potevo sentire le campane.

    Che ne dite?

    Lee
    I see your point, but how would you say then:

    Qaundo avevo la patente, potevo guidare l'auto.
    When I used to have a driving license, I could ( I were allowed to) drive the car.
     

    mateintwo

    Senior Member
    Sweden, Former resident USA
    Yes I think u can translate both with "I could". The difference more than the tense I think that is a question of ability against will. However we prefer potuto(past participle) for negative forms(or almost negative such as "ho potuto SOLTANTO/... SOLO...", here are some examples:


    e.g.: 1a)potevo fare di meglio > I could do it better (I was able but I didn't: I didn't give all my efforts for that or I did't want to)
    1b)non ho potuto fare di meglio> I couldn't do it better ( I've tried but I wasn't able)
    2a) potevo leggere anche tutto il libro> I could even read the whole book in once (I was able but I did't)
    2)ho potuto leggere solo tre pagine perche' nn ho avuto molto tempo. > I could read just 3 pages because I didn't have much time(=I wasn't able to read more than 3 pag.)


    HOPE THAT COULD BE USEFUL...
    1a and 2a si puo' anche dire: avrei potuto+fare, leggere, vero?
     

    mateintwo

    Senior Member
    Sweden, Former resident USA
    So Donzes,

    Since avrei potuto translates could have and it equals potevo so also potevo = could have. But of course potevo in other contexts can mean I used to be able. Like in the phrase I could (used to be able to) hear the bells.
    At least I think this sums it.
     

    lillipizzana

    New Member
    italian, english, french
    Can't see a decently close explanation here guys! The rule is always that one cannot expect to translate one-to-one with the rule. Semantically, you use the imperfetto when a past action is continuative and/or recurring (often accompany by an adverb (form) like "while" or "used to".) Present perfect is one precise event that took place once and that's it (alas or hopefully)

    Example:

    Mentre camminavo un vaso di gerani mi e' caduto sul cranio.

    While I was walking a geranium vase fell on my skull.

    or:

    Andavo sempre a scuola a piedi ma una volta ho preso l'autobus

    I used to walk to school but once I took the bus

    It's the story of the boredom of routine against the excitement of the passing moment...
     
    Last edited by a moderator:

    Dammivolume

    Senior Member
    English-USA
    I heard a different context recently. A grandfather was telling his grandson that he wishes he could've studied more when he was age. I don't remember the whole sentence but it goes something like "Non ho una laurea perche non ho potuto studiare"

    does he say "non ho potuto" here as he only had that one time in his life to study (even though one can start and stop at anytime) ??
     

    MünchnerFax

    Senior Member
    Italian, Italy
    He said non ho potuto studiare because he focused on the fact itself, without contextualizing it in a precise period of his life.

    Non potevo studiare would have a (possibly implicit) time reference, and its scope would be limited to that time.

    Compare:
    Quando ero giovane non ho potuto studiare.
    When I was young, I wasn't able to study. This sentence says the event "studying" did not take place. The listener understands that this is given as factual reason for something which takes place at or refers to a later time, even present or future (i.e. so I haven't been able to become a doctor as I've always wanted) - so as I said, there's no limitation to a certain time.

    Quando ero giovane non potevo studiare.
    When I was young I wasn't able to study. The speaker is strictly limiting his statement to a precise time. He is telling that in that period he wasn't able to study, and this limitation was constant throughout his youth. The listener can't infer from this sentence only if the speaker eventually studied at a later time - simply, the scope is restricted to that time and all the rest doesn't come to mind. :) This is suitable as background for telling some story which is set in that period. In fact, the listener would expect to hear something more - imagine hearing in English "I wasn't being able to study" and you'll wonder "well, what was going on at the same time that was impeding you; that is, why do you need to stress that was a continuous condition by saying 'was being'?".
    However (unfortunately for you learners :) ) it's not always so black and white. What I described are the main different nuances, but there are often cases where both choices are possible with a very similar meaning. Not in the one you asked about, though. :)
     
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    Azazel81

    Senior Member
    Italy - Italian
    To me the difference is also connected to consequences:

    1) Non ho potuto studiare. Consequences: I have no degrees, I can't become a top manager in my fields since only those who have a PhD can achieve such position, etc... (those are just examples). Consequences still apply to the present somehow

    2) Non potevo studiare. Consequences: I got bad grades. Something wasn't letting me study. Consequences stay in the past.

    Then, like someone said, the "imperfetto" can be used when a past action is continuative/recurring (or better... it WAS continuative/recurring), whereas the "passato prossimo" is usually used when the action happened in the past, stays in the past, but has consequences on the present (or anyway on the time that comes after).
     

    Dammivolume

    Senior Member
    English-USA
    Munchnerfax: thank you. That was a very sufficient explanation! My professoressa however, always told us that it is often a good idea to match tenses if possible in a sentence. Although I suppose this is purely on a case by case basis. Take the case of my nonno: when describing the circumstances of his birth I was told it's better to say "Mentre lui nasceva, lei moriva"

    ma io devago un po' :)

    I actually took this line from an episode of Un Medico in Famiglia. This is Nonno Libero scolding Alberto for not wanting to study anymore and so he says, "Non ho potuto studiare (quando aveva la sua eta')" But yes I understand now why he used the passato prossimo.

    btw "I wasn't being able to study" I dont believe is correct in English and it's not how I would say it. Just take out the 'being' and it sounds more natural to me. however I think if you were to use "I was being" you'd need an adjective afterward like "I was being good for her" But I don't believe this is said too often if at all.

    Azazel81: The best example I always give for the passato prossimo is "Ho capito". It is a good example of something that is in the past tense and has connection to the present. But to use the imperfetto with capire could i say this: "Quando frequentavo la scuola superiore non capivo proprio niente" ?? Or this "Mentre lei parlava non capivo niente di quello che diceva" ??
     

    MünchnerFax

    Senior Member
    Italian, Italy
    btw "I wasn't being able to study" I dont believe is correct in English and it's not how I would say it. Just take out the 'being' and it sounds more natural to me. however I think if you were to use "I was being" you'd need an adjective afterward like "I was being good for her" But I don't believe this is said too often if at all.
    Yes, I can imagine how it sounds. :eek: I just hoped it'd help clarify. :)
     

    Dammivolume

    Senior Member
    English-USA
    yes you did, thank you/grazie! I learn by examples so the more I hear the verb Potere the more I will study the context to understand why a certain tense is being used.
     
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